Want Claire’s entire guide to Paris? Check out her PDF!
My work takes me to a lot of fascinating places, and when the opportunity to direct a commercial in Paris came up, I could’t help but do a happy dance about it. Paris, in many ways, is how it exists in our collective imagination. Open boulevards, young men on bicycles, brasseries packed and bustling with people looking out onto the street, baguettes under the arms of busy Parisians making their way home, a bakery every block: all of this is true, but there’s more to it than that. It’s not a crystallized city, stuck in La Belle epoch or roaring 20s, it’s moving and evolving. This is most readily seen through food. Yes, the bistros, brasseries, and cafes are lovely and have the dishes you’d expect, but there are so many exciting, fresh things happening against the backdrop of classic French cuisine. You’ll have a ball discovering all of it.
Parisians have a reputation for being a bit chilly to us English speakers, but I have to say, I did not find that to be the case at all. The key to winning hearts and minds in Paris is simple: Be polite. Don’t assume they speak English, and don’t immediately start asking something of them. If you need directions or help, a simple “Excuse moi, English?” goes a very long way. In shops and restaurants always announce yourself with a “Bonjour!” or “Bon soir!” and leave with a “Merci!” or “Au Revoir!” It’s the well mannered thing to do, and they appreciate it so much.
The cabs are notoriously expensive, so lucky for you Paris is only a “quick” two hour walk from edge to edge. I walked everywhere, and full disclosure, this was my diet plan. Eat what I want, drink what I want, and walk at least 3 miles a day. Plus, there’s no better way to get to know a city than step by step, so get moving!
Pharmacies: In Santa Monica there’s a fro yo place, Pilates center, and gas station every ten feet, in Paris, it’s pharmacies, fruit stands and bakeries. The pharmacies were probably my favorite discovery while working in Paris. Don’t get me wrong, I love stocking up on my Yes!To Cucumbers Wipes and Full n Soft Mascara at home, but what the French pharmacies offer, that is hard to find in the States, are awesome mid-priced items. At my local pharmacy, everything is between $5 to $15, and typically you get what you pay for. At the departments stores, it’s $25 to $75 and a bit overkill. The Parisian pharmacies have cornered the market on high quality beauty and skin care products that are all in the $15 to $25 range. Sure, some stuff is a little less or a little more, but I was struck by the high quality and reasonable price of it all.
The French dads are amazing. They became the mascot of the trip. Bearded, in perfectly tailored suits, with a rumpled scarf jauntily tossed on just-so, these men are so handsome and seem to own the streets around 7 pm. Maybe that’s when mom gets a break back home, but the amount of lone French dad’s wandering the streets with a stroller was too many not to notice.
Detaxe: If you purchase over 175E, ask to fill out the detaxe (VAT) form. You’ll have to fill out a small form, but you can save up to 25%, which adds up quickly. At the airport there’s a window where you have to turn in your paper work, and they’ll either hand you over your savings in cash or can send it back to your credit card. You might have to show them your purchases, so have them on hand (I got lucky and they just sent me moving along).
Buy something frivolous. You’re in Paris, and you’ll want to bring home something to remember it by.
Get lost once. It’s really easy, since it’s not a grid system (so many damn star shaped intersections), and so fun to get lost in such a beautiful city.
What I’ll do differently next time…
• I’ll eat more pastries. I didn’t have a croissant the whole time I was there.
• I’ll have more dinners at wine bars, which have some of the best food in the city.
• I’ll drink more wine.
• I’ll order more appetizers, and less main courses, since the apps where almost always the best thing on the menu.
• I’ll have more grand mariner soufflés, croque madames, and prosciutto with melon, because I can never have enough.
• I’ll bring more closed toed walking shoes, rather than just motorcycle boots.
• I’ll sit and read in the jardin des tuileries.
• I’ll bring more casual clothes. The chicest people in Paris rock Isabel Marant jeans and chucks, so imagine more Jane Birkin and less 1949 Dior.
• I’ll learn a few more French phrases before going, so I wouldn’t be stuck in my “Excusez Moi, English?” cul de sac.
The perfect suitcase for a week in Paris in August:
Preferably all in black, if you want to be very Parisian about it. Also, the temperature wavered between 50F with rain and 85F with pure sunshine, so you’ll want to have a variety of combinations to play with.
3 cotton t shirts or tunics
2 silk button downs
1 striped long sleeve shirt
1 pair leather pants
1 pair jeans
1 cocktail dress
1 full length jump suit (obviously optional, but this was so fun to bust out at night)
1 flouncy skirt
1 slouchy cozy sweater
1 light cardigan
1 leather jacket
1 chic blazer
1 hat, for the rain
1 light scarf, for layering
1 pair of killer heels
1 pair ballet flats
1 pair motorcycle boots
1 pair sandals
The lay of the land:
St. Honore is like the 5th avenue of Paris while the Marais (in the 3rd) is like Williamsburg and St. Germain is like Soho. All three are awesome, and the Marais is my favorite.
111 Boulevard Beaumarchais (Marais)
Merci is my favorite shop in Paris, without a doubt. It’s one of those spots built for window shopping. Three stories high and filled with natural light, it has a fantastic array of local designers, special collections, vintages pieces, and practically anything from 3 euros to 3000 euros. I always stock up on inexpensive keepsakes to bring back to friends and glumly stare at all the fabulous outside of wallet’s capacity. Or I just hang out in one of the three (!) cafes and just people watch, which is a very Parisian thing to do.
Another cool thing about Merci is that it’s almost guilt-free shopping. Instead of taking the profits from the store, the founders decided that the proceeds of this investment would serve to fund an endowment to pay for educational projects and development in south-west Madagascar. So you can feel good about all of those linens you’re stocking up on. Shopping for a cause!
213 Rue Saint-Honoré (St. Honore)
+33 1 55 35 33 90
This is a must for Parisian shopping. Uber trendy with a great mix of high end and obscure designers. It’s also the spot where I bought my first “I’m in PARISSSSS!” frivolous item: a t shirt made with hat netting. It’s awesome, this store is awesome, and there are a ton of great little bits and pieces that make fabulous gifts.
52 Rue des Tournelles (Marais)
+33 1 45 08 14 15
There are a bunch of locations all over the city, and sort of has a Madewell but French vibe. Cute dresses, cozy tees, and elegant cuts make this a great place to make moderately affordable purchases. This is a store that would get me in a lot of trouble if it was back home.
& Other Stories
277 rue Saint-Honoré, 75001 Paris, France (St. Honore)
H&M’s high end branch is just too good. You’ll covet everything and might do some damage here.
La Grande Épicerie de Paris (St. Germain)
An epic grocery store. A great spot for buying last minute gifts, and also a great spot for a good laugh. The “USA” aisle containers 16E peanut butter, marshmallows, pumpkin puree, and not much else, while the Italian aisle has truffle salt for 5E. Yep, pretty silly stuff.
78 rue de Seine (St. Germain)
My favorite candle and room spray in the world is Abd el Kader, by Cire Trudon. A heady combination of fresh mint, green tea and tobacco, I’ve never smelled anything else like it. And it shouldn’t be much of a surprise either, since Cire Trudon has been around since 1643 and the official royal candlemaker since 1719. The store is beautiful and cozy, and filled with candles and room sprays you can’t find back in the states. They’re definitely expensive, but if you’re looking for the perfect “I don’t know what to get you” gift, a Cire Trudon anything is a good bet.
53 Rue Vieille du Temple (Marais)
If you need a leather jacket or shredded T, you’re set. The jackets are structured but with fun, casual fabric, and the leather leggings are so comfortable.
47 Rue de Saintonge (Marais)
Pure Parisian style. Isabel Marant is one of those designers where if you’re super cool and where her clothes, you’ll look amazing. If you’re a norm-y like myself, it’s a crap shoot. I’ve tried on blouses and t shirts that make me swoon with “must have” feelings, and I’ve tried on sweaters and jeans that make me look a bit…well, it’s just not super flattering. So try your luck and have fun with the Parisian casual-cool.
40, rue de Sévigné (Marais)
A really cool boutique space with high end products. The interior feels like a music video set from 1998, but in a cool way? Regardless, this is a great spot for window shopping some of Paris’s coolest designers.
Roses Dani Costes Roses
239-241 rue Saint-Honoré (St. Honore)
+33 1 42 44 50 09
I’m obsessed with fat garden roses, thickly perfumed and intoxicating. It’s so rare that I get to enjoy one though, since most roses you come across (think the long stemmed roses seen on The Bachelor) are hybrids, devoid of scent but very uniform and pretty. The wild, fragrant varieties are found climbing garden walls or cutting up the hands of would-be florists. Roses Dani Costes specializes in these roses. And that’s it. Just roses. The shop is a little room of heaven. I bought a tiny bouquet that smelled like grapefruit and vanilla, and it perfumed my room better than any room spray or candle I’ve ever owned. If you’re walking around St. Honore and want to make yourself or someone else feel special, buy a blossom or two from this store.
75 rue des Saint-Pères (St. Germain)
Imagine jcrew + 1949 dior. YEP. And not too bad price wise ($50-350). I meant to only buy one skirt, but the shop girl made such sad puppy dog eyes that I had to buy another one too. The quality is great and my purchases here are ones I’ve worn again and again.
4 Rue des Rosiers (Marais)
The French version of H&M. Chic, affordable clothes, but in very French silhouettes and proportions. I didn’t have much luck here, but if you’re blessed with a gamine figure, this is the spot for you.
Astier de Villatte
173 rue Saint-Honoré (St. Honore)
The delicate yet durable, quotidian yet special, antique inspired yet totally modern ceramics by Astier de Villatte are the beginning of a new collection for me. Made of black terra cotta clay which peeks through the milky white glaze, the handmade tableware collection is inspired by 18th and 19th century designs. And despite its delicate aesthetic, the ceramics are microwave and dishwasher safe, so perfect for everyday use.